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Camp Good Grief set for this week

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Some of the area's youngest residents that have had a rough year will have a place to go this week to better help them cope.

Camp Good Grief and Camp Journey are two camps being held by Albany Community Hospice to allow children and teens who have lost someone close to them a chance to grow and grieve together.

Camp participants engage in activities and small group sessions to help them learn about and discuss grief among their peers.

Three sisters, Courtney Shirley, Chelsey Shirley and Candace Shirley, lost their father in March 2002. They attended Camp Good Grief for the two years following his death and are now junior counselors for the camp.

"We loved the camp, so we wanted to help out," said Chelsey, age 15. "This will be our third year as counselors."

Chelsey's twin sister, Courtney, felt the same way when she decided to volunteer.

"I just loved going to camp," she recalled. "I thought that if I experienced that (a parent's death), I thought I'd be able to help them (the campers) because I've been through the same thing.

"I still get sad sometimes, but you know it's OK to get sad."

Junior counselors are generally supervised by an adult counselor, and are perhaps one of the most vital elements behind the camp's mission.

"These kids can relate to other kids who have also lost someone," said Erica Cuneo, bereavement coordinator for Albany Community Hospice. "They (the camp attendees) can see they can make it."

One of the adult counselors is the trio's mother, Patsy Shirley, who was able to establish a closer bond with her daughters as a result of their loss.

"We went through the experience together because it was just us," she said.

"None of us had been through an extreme loss like that.

"My girls were able to go two years, and I saw the impact it had on them."

Allowing children to attend the camp for two years is rare, but the Shirley sisters were very young, so an exception was made for them, Cuneo said.

Camp Good Grief is for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, and Camp Journey is for those in sixth-12th grade. The camps will include sessions with counselors, land sports as well as arts and crafts.

Trained counselors, including the junior counselors, are prepared to deal with bereavement issues and will assist campers throughout their time at the camps.

"We are close to their age somewhat, so we can relate to them," Candace, age 13, said.

Camp Good Grief and Camp Journey will be held this year from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. There is no cost for participating in the camps.

Drop-off will be from 7 a.m.-8 a.m. both mornings at Willson Hospice House. There will be a memorial service held on the second day of camp.

Pick-up times will be 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the memorial service.

For more information, call (229) 312-7050.